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GM-designed, Magna-supplied front seats in new Bolt EV are lightweight, save space and help mitigate occupant crash protection according to the car's Chief Engineer Josh Tavel. (Lindsay Brooke photo)

Bolt EV seat design cuts weight, delights taller passengers

Stepping into the back seat of Chevrolet’s 2017 Bolt EV, one attribute of the car is immediately evident: the designers and engineers didn’t neglect the outsized physical dimensions of tall passengers.

In fact, even those whose height and inseam length are well beyond the 90th percentile—that would include the author—will appreciate the Bolt EV’s surprisingly easy ingress and egress. That’s because the car’s front seats were designed with the back-seaters in mind, as well as being designed to reduce mass.

Bolt EV’s front seats were designed in house by GM. They’re known internally as UTSB—Ultra Thin Seatback. The seats are designed and engineered in combination with the similarly well-considered rear seat system (both supplied by Magna Seating) to improve the interior spaciousness of a vehicle that feels larger inside than its compact exterior form would indicate. The front seats are engineered with a light steel seat frame over which a flexible plastic shell is fitted. The shell is lined with 0.4-0.6-in-thick (10-15 mm) foam.

Swing your torso and legs into the rear seat area, as Automotive Engineering did during a pre-production test drive last winter, and the Bolt’s rear knee room feels extra special for a B-segment vehicle. The rear seat back still has a metal structure, and includes a sculpted back panel to provide increased rear seat leg room. Behind the fold-flat 60/40 rear seat, the Bolt offers 16.9 ft3 of cargo space—more than the current B-segment leader in this metric, the 2016 Honda Fit.

The front seats’ backside fascias are molded with a concave surface geometry in their center so that taller backseat passengers are not always required to ask the driver and front seat passenger to slide their seats forward. Pam Fletcher, GM’s Executive Chief Engineer for Electrified Vehicles, explained that the Bolt EV “was designed with ride-sharing as a potential consideration.” Think GM’s investment in Lyft.

According to the Bolt’s Chief Engineer, Josh Tavel, the UTSB front seats also are lighter overall than comparable GM seats as used on the Chevy Sonic, for example, but he was not yet prepared to reveal the exact mass delta. The front seats also incorporate the side airbag modules as a design element.

Magna Seating is responsible for the Bolt seats’ foam and trim design. The company also handles complete assembly of the seats at its Detroit plant, which also produces seats for the Chevrolet Volt.

Magna has itself been a pioneer in developing lightweight, thin-profile seat designs. It first exhibited a thin-section lightweight (less than 22 lb/9.9 kg) vehicle seat in 2000, on GM’s 80-mpg Precept hybrid concept car. The company’s latest FutureForm concept is claimed to offer a 20% mass reduction versus comparable production seats, along with a nearly 2-in (50 mm) improvement in rear-seat passenger leg room, the company claims.

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